A consensus on marriage?

The last few days we’ve been having some occasionally contentious discussion about where marriage fits in with the church and the state. I had started to worry that if even Christians don’t know what marriage is, how it is constituted, and how it is governed, how is it going to be possible to defend it from all of the attacks? But then, after thinking about some things Pastor Cwirla said and Scylding’s historical perspective, thins started to crystalize in my mind. How about if we consider marriage as follows:

(1) God did establish three distinct orders or estates for human life: the church, the family, and the state.

(2) Marriage is the foundational vocation of the family.

(3) The family, like the state, is part of the temporal order, God’s Earthly Kingdom.

(4) The family has a unique, intimate connection with God, since marriage is an image of Christ and the Church, and parenthood is an image of God’s Fatherhood. Thus, it is related to God’s Spiritual Kingdom.

(5) Both Kingdoms must help, support, and defend marriage: the State by means of laws, enforcement, and temporal power; the Church by means of blessing, prayer, teaching, and pastoral care.

(6) What constitutes a marriage–that is, the creation of a new family–is the consent and the vows of the couple, followed by a sexual consummation. (This is actually the formulation of the canon law that sees marriage as a sacrament; it accords with Protestant traditions; and, I believe, it is the universal cultural practice.)

(7) When Christian couples marry, their vows, publicly proclaimed in the marriage ceremony, should be ratified both by the Church (in the marriage rite) and by the State (in the marriage license with its accompanying laws).

How does that sound? Could we all agree on this? Does it accord with Scripture? Does it violate any confessional teachings of any church body?

Discussions of God’s Earthly Kingdom generally focus on the State. But I’m thinking now that the Family is a better test case for the Kingdom of the Left. The State with its authority is more remote. The Family with its authorities, relationships, the necessity of making a living, and its temporal blessings provides a more dramatic and immediate example of God’s presence and provision in vocation.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I would more or less agree with this. Though I do think that currently the state is tending to divest itself of interest in marriage. Which is why I think we have to stop looking at the state as a protector of marriage. It is very incapable of protecting marriage, and often only exacerbates problems.
    I will be fasting this lent, in that I won’t be commenting on blogs as of midnight tonight. I will though be keeping my blog going.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    I like what the Hollywood actors and gay activists have to say about marriage.

    Then again…I like nuclear war and pulling the wings off of butterflies.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    I feel much better about this posting, Veith. However, in this fallen world, the state’s licencing act can be problematic at times, but we should make the best of it. But fundamentally, I like what you said.

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  • WebMonk

    Pretty good, though I’ll be a lawyer about #6. #7 is one of the things we’ve been discussing.

    6: “What constitutes a marriage is the consent and the vows of the couple, followed by a sexual consummation.”

    My grandfather got re-married late in life, and certainly wasn’t capable of sexual consummation due to polio and age. Still married? State and Church said so. They both intended marriage. I’d say they are married, and so the sexual consummation isn’t fundamentally necessary.

    7: “When Christian couples marry, their vows, publicly proclaimed in the marriage ceremony, should be ratified both by the Church (in the marriage rite) and by the State (in the marriage license with its accompanying laws)”

    “Should” or “must”? The “should” is something I agree with. The “must” is what it seems you and a couple others have been saying.

  • Manxman

    At the heart of God’s creation are the realities of hierarchy and authority. It is found everywhere – in both the spiritual & temporal realms. Marriage is a hierarchy – not an equality, and different stations within the marriage have different levels of authority. The same is true of the state and the Church.

    I think a good deal of the controversy in this marriage topic has to do with “chain of command” issues. As these different orders or estates function – and impact institutions like marriage – the question arises as to which estate has the authority in God’s eyes to call the shots?

    I think trying to come up with some kind of proper description of how God has designed the hierarchy and invested authority and how authority is to function between these estates would perhaps clarify the issue.

  • Peter Leavitt

    I like the the idea of the three orders, church, family, and state, including the hierarchy of the order with the church first. Further, that the state is not written off, however parlous its existing condition.

  • http://blog.higherthings.org/wcwirla/ wcwirla

    Hey, seven points. It must be divine, right? On the whole, it looks pretty good to me.

    Regarding sex and marriage, or better, marriage and sex, I see marriage as that legal-juridical fence that guards the “one flesh” union that results with the sexual union of male and female. Though you may tear down the legal fence (ie divorce), you can’t undo what God has joined together, which makes sexual promiscuity all the more a bummer. For my money, if all a couple of seniors want to do is play shuffleboard and sip tea together, they don’t really need marriage, but it helps make the case when granddaughter wants to shack up with her college sweety for more than shuffleboard. (I’m sure that’ll draw a few howls of protest, but I’m not interested in debating on a comment stream, especially now that Bror has decided on a blogfast for Lent.)

    All ordos have a dog in the hunt. The church proclaims marriage’s holiness and its Christ/Church typology, prays for, and blesses it, the government administers the public paperwork (marriage is a public commitment) and defends marriage (or used to until the demise of adultery laws and the advent of no-fault divorce), and the parents look on in stunned disbelief and semi-wonderment at what their offspring are doing. The essence of marriage lies (no pun intended) in the sexual union of husband and wife within the promise to live together in a lifelong partnership “until death us do part” (Darwinian urges to multiply one’s genes all over the place notwithstanding).

    Who has the last word? God does. If any of the ordos is not running in line with God’s Word, then “we ought to obey God rather than men.” Simple as that.

  • Manxman

    wcwirla

    It’s not as “simple as that” when you’re dealing with a secular State that tells the Church to take a hike and with a populace that is becoming increasingly irreligious.

    One of the images that keeps going thru my head in this discussion of Church vs. State in marriage, is that thing in the movie Braveheart where the State (the feudal Lord) had first crack at the bride on the wedding night before the husband could comsummate the sexual part of the marriage. Obviously, this is a gross insult to God and the institution of marriage by the State. So what’s the Church going to do to carry out God’s will in this abuse of authority? Or IS this an abuse of the State’s right to create marriage law?

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Manxman and wcwirla – interesting discussion again here – isn’t the confusion at what really is at the top of the heirarchy for various individuals within the same estate?

    The Christian willingly (well – somewhat sinfully and not so willingly at times – but keeps repenting, that is and) submits to all authority which he is subordinate to, while the church, the family, and the state all so often seem to be fighting for which one’s the top ordo – all the while ignoring the fact that there is an Authority far greater than them all.

  • TIm Raveling

    Interesting.
    Very interesting.

  • http://blog.higherthings.org/wcwirla/ wcwirla

    “So what’s the Church going to do to carry out God’s will in this abuse of authority? ”

    Disobey the feudal lord. “We ought to obey God rather than men.” I’d answer more fully, but the new format runs across the Amazon banner and I can’t see half of what I’m typing across the right ad banner. Sorry.

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    I have followed this discussion and still don’t really understand Webmonk’s point. He tears down and criticizes, but doesn’t offer a clearly defined alternative.

    Re:#6 Am I to gather that you (Webmonk) believe the essence of marriage is in the pronouncement of church and state, along with the intent of those involved? ( And in your opinion that it is true?) And that the one flesh union is optional?

    In the scriptures the essence of marriage is the one flesh union. The “state” or secular authorities uphold this union with legal protection for the parties involved. The church’s part is to point to the one flesh union and the mystery of Christ it portrays as a visible sign of Christ and His Church. Neither the Church nor the State “add” anything to what God has joined together through their decrees or ceremonies except their assent and outward protection. If marriage is purely a function of the state’s decrees, then it can be whatever the state defines it as, and homosexual marriage is legit when they say it is.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Patrick is right about this. The Biblical one flesh union in a civilized culture is reinforced by both upright family life and state laws. The fact that 38% of children in America (70% among blacks) are born out of wedlock is a sign that America has become a rather decadent nation, notwithstanding wonderful grandfathers with polio unable to consummate a marriage.

  • Nathan

    Dr. Veith,

    Sorry about the “hit and run” but I have limited time (I confess I have not read responses above).

    “(3) The family, like the state, is part of the temporal order, God’s Earthly Kingdom.”

    I think this is wrong in some ways – it is not specific like it should be. The way I see it, the family is the foundation of the state, but there is a HUGE difference: the family is rooted in the *physically organic* (i.e. it is a biological body) – not so with the state.

    This relates to something I believe Luther was careful to point out. I am quite sure that Luther talked about how the state is *not* a part of the original creation blueprint – it is necessary *only* due to the fall. Not so with the family (I think I read this in Oswald Bayer’s popular thin volume, the name which escapes me now. I am sorry – I will not be able to comment again. Someone else will have to pick up after me).

    In fact, I would argue that the family is more related to the Kingdom of the right (though it is not the church) than the Kingdom of the left. The organic, fruit creating and nurturing “institution” (how are we defining this word?) of marriage is best and most biblically understood as a crucial, very real picture of Christ and the Church.

    -Nathan

  • Nathan

    OK – I just won’t have a lunch break today. : )

    I remembered: “Living by Faith” by Oswald Bayer.

    Further explanation: the church and the family were both intended from the beginning (so they might be called “natural” in some sense), and both are “organic” in various senses – this being more physical (since it is biological) with the family and this being more spiritual (since it is not by their own physical blood, but Christ’s that they are bound) with the Church.

    The state, on the other hand, compared with these entities above, is artificial (and hence more malleable: we do not insist that democratic forms of governance is *the* right way, the true way, the God-pleasing way) – and is necessary simply because of the fall and for no other reason.

    The fact that the state is artificial makes perfect sense when one considers that we are all naturally one organic unity in Adam – one family – by blood (this is a gift that we can not reject). Further, we are all made alive in Christ – and hence fit in with His Church – by His blood (God certainly intends this for all, though this is a gift that we can reject).

    OK, I really am done now! (maybe I can comment tomorrow or this coming Monday)

    -Nathan

  • WebMonk

    Kyle, I think you mentioned quite a few of the points I’ve been saying – State ought to have no controlling power over marriage, and neither should the Church. Marriage is not under the authority of either of those institutions. I realize this has been a spread out discussion, but I think I’ve made that point quite a number of times, probably to the point of being obnoxious about it.

    State and Church impact marriage and in those interactions marriage operates at times in areas over which the Church or State has proper authority, but neither Church nor State can declare or prohibit the existence of marriage, nor change what marriage is.

    If a couple were to go with a purely religious ceremony (such as was mentioned sometimes/often happening within the Muslim communities in America) without an official governmental certificate, they are still married, though the government may not recognize the marriage in legal ways.

    Similarly, the government may say that homosexual couples can legally marry, but this doesn’t mean they are married because the government (State) cannot change what marriage is.

    As far as the part about sex being required for marriage, I realize that’s arguing from exceptions, and so has limited impact. The instances where polio or accidents may remove the ability to have sex, are so few and far between that it’s perhaps dangerous to declare the “normal” to be unnecessary.

    Not to bring up a baptism debate, but an example might be shown in baptism. Baptism is required for salvation in Lutheran theology, but the thief on the cross was never baptized, and yet he was saved. Does that suddenly mean Lutherans believe that that baptism isn’t necessary for salvation? Most emphatically no, it is an exception to the rule.

    An Internet “friend” of mine is incapable from a childhood accident as far as sex goes, but has been married for quite a few years and I know has adopted some kids. Are they married? Yes, it is an exception to the rule. Ditto for my grandfather.

  • http://blog.higherthings.org/wcwirla/ wcwirla

    “As far as the part about sex being required for marriage, I realize that’s arguing from exceptions, and so has limited impact.”

    Actually, no impact whatsoever. Exceptions cannot inform the rule because they are – exceptions.

    BTW, the dying thief was not really an exception, as Holy Baptism has not as yet been instituted by the risen Christ (Mt 28:19-20). Besides, he had the ultimate “Sacrament of sacraments” in having dying Jesus speak directly to him. Apples and oranges on that one.


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